Employees can elevate and amplify your brand messaging to their own social networks and beyond.

Word of mouth marketing is nothing new. But today’s technology gives brands ways to accomplish it more efficiently by marshaling their internal teams to act as social media advocates. According to recent reports, social media content shared by employees gets eight times more engagement than content shared through the brand’s own social channels and is shared 25 times more frequentlyAnd leads through employee social networks convert seven times more often than any other leads.

Whether you’re looking to raise brand awareness, increase sales, or attract new talent to your organization, it’s time to consider the power of employee advocacy.

Employee advocacy occurs when employees actively represent the company’s brand on social media channels, including LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and even specialty hiring sites like Glassdoor. Grassroots social media efforts are effective because the message comes not from executives or from the human resources department — who obviously have a stake in increasing sales or attracting top talent — but from actual employees.

The case for employee advocacy.

Under the guidance of a social media specialist, your employees can elevate and amplify your brand messaging to their own social networks and beyond. Here are five steps to building a successful social media advocacy program.

1. Define your goals.

Are your goals to improve search engine rankings to drive traffic to your company website? Raise brand awareness? Increase sales? Recruit top talent? Whatever your objectives, you won’t know if you reach them unless you set goals and identify the key performance indicators (KPIs) that will show you’ve reached them.

When it comes to social media, “likes” and “followers” don’t always tell the whole story. While it’s important to build your numbers, you’ll ultimately need to determine the value of those eyes on your brand and find ways to measure the results your social media advocacy efforts have achieved.

2. Establish guidelines.

While some employees — especially millennials — might love getting permission to “play” on Instagram or Twitter during company time, it’s important to make sure employee advocacy efforts are on task — and on target.

Set up company guidelines for what your team should — and especially should not — share on social media. Offer quick training or “cheat sheets” for how to quickly set up a Twitter or Instagram account and best practices for creating posts or sharing photos.

3. Provide incentives for employees.

Offer incentives to encourage reluctant employees to take the time to promote your company on social media, and to ensure active employees share messaging in alignment with your goals. For example, you could present a $100 gift card for every recruit that results in a hire, or offer incentives for sales leads that come through employee social media accounts.

Most importantly, establish a company culture that is social media-friendly. Sometimes, all it takes is asking an employee to post a review on Glassdoor, or sending a company-wide email asking employees to share news of an exciting new product launch. Don’t be afraid to share suggested messages from your marketing or social media teams, which could inspire employees to create their own.

4. Monitor progress.

Employee advocacy can be powerful, but it can also be dangerous. By setting your employees loose on social media, you can’t keep a tight rein on all the messaging. But that’s OK. Messages come across more genuinely if they don’t sound like excerpts from a corporate press release.

It is, however, vital to monitor your team’s updates to ensure they are posting nothing inflammatory or discriminatory. Also, track progress to gauge which employee posts are more successful at driving leads or new recruits. Praise employees publicly for their most successful social media efforts. Zappos, for instance, displays a leader board to recognize employees with the most social media followers.

5. Adapt the program to improve results.

If you’ve successfully engaged your employees to participate in social media advocacy but aren’t seeing results, ask these questions:

  • Are your employees on the right platforms? (That is, do they have a presence on the same social media networks as your customers?)
  • Are they sharing the right messages?
  • Are they over-sharing? (When an employees’ Twitter feed starts to look just like a brand’s, their followers are likely to tune out.)

Determine where you need to make changes and convey that information to employees.

Remember, social media marketing takes time and employee advocacy is no different. But with an army of influencers at your fingertips, you should see the needle move on your social KPIs before too long.

A version of this was first posted on Entrepreneur.com